Looking down on a map of the Mekong Delta, one of the most notable features is the extensive network of waterways, fanning out like so many long fingers. Not only does it add to the natural beauty of the region, these waterways are also its lifeline, irrigating countless fruit orchards and rice fields that make the Delta “The Rice Bowl of Vietnam”, providing a watery highway for transport and commerce, and feeding the people with an abundant variety of fish, crab and shrimp.
The Mekong Delta, one of the most productive and diverse river systems on Earth, includes a truly diverse array of ecosystems that include mangrove forests, rivers and streams, sand dunes, grasslands, and more. This unique combination also gives rise to some distinctive plants that add flavor and texture to the cuisine of the Mekong Delta.
One of these plants is the bồn bồn, also known as bullrush, a tall, reedy plant that thrives in the wetlands of the Delta. While the Vietnamese eat the stems, leaves and roots, it’s the crunchy stems that find themselves quick pickled in vinegar or as part of tasty salads.
To find out more about this crunchy, fresh vegetable, we visit the kitchen of Spices Restaurant at Victoria Can Tho Resort to see how Bon Bon Salad is made. (Full recipe follows at the end of the post.)
First, the stems are washed and the outer layer peeled away.
The proteins for this salad are shrimp (cooked and peeled) and roast pork (boiled and sliced pork works equally well).
Throw in some julienne carrots for crunch and color, along with thinly sliced onions and an aromatic herb called rau răm or Vietnamese mint, usually available at Asian supermarkets.
The dressing is fish sauce-based, with the addition of lime, minced garlic, chili and sugar.
Gently toss all the ingredients together.
Fry up some rice flour crackers (or shrimp crackers, found in most Asian supermarkets) which provides some extra crunch and can even be used to scoop up the salad!
Garnish with some peanuts and coriander and you’re all done! Bon bon salad with shrimp and pork, a specialty of the Mekong Delta!
Bon Bon Salad with Shrimp and Pork
Shrimp 200 g
Pork 200 g
Bon bon 300 g
Carrot, one medium sized
Salt, sugar, fish sauce, lime, minced garlic and chili
Toasted rice flour crackers (optional)
1) Boil or steam the shrimp. Remove shell and clean.
2) Boil pork belly and slice.
3) Prepare the bon bon by discarding chewy, fibrous parts. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Soak in cold water for 30 minutes and wash clean. To make them extra crispy, soak again in ice water. Just before using, completely drain and pat dry so the bon bon can absorb the dressing.
4) Make the dressing, combining fish sauce, lime, minced garlic and chili, and sugar to taste.
5) Julienne the carrots and wash the Vietnamese mint, picking the leaves and discarding the stem.
6) Mix all the ingredients together well with the dressing.
7) Garnish with peanuts, coriander and crackers.
Recipe and photos courtesy of the wonderfully scenic Spices Restaurant at Victoria Can Tho Resort, with both indoor and outdoor seating overlooking lush gardens and the Hau River beyond. The restaurant offers casual all-day dining featuring both European and Vietnamese cuisine, including caramelized fish in clay pot.